On the Benefits of Walking

Photo of walker Harold Steppuhn, by Matthew R Anderson

A friend asked if I had any recommendations for books or articles on the benefits of walking. Do I? Of course–too many, as I discovered when trying to make a list! So here, for others who may be interested, is a very partial catalogue (under construction) of books and articles in English or translated to English. Some are about specific paths or trails, some are thematic, some meditative, some memoir, some scientific, and many have more than one of these ingredients. My favourite books in this genre combine memoir, humour, historical reminiscence, and observations about walking. So that’s what I’ve also tried to write.

Solvitur ambulando: it is solved by walking

Some suggestions

Horatio Clare, Something of His Art: Walking to Lübeck with J.S. Bach (Dorset: Little Toller, 2018). Nice BBC-style writing (there are podcasts of this as well) about following Bach’s footsteps through paths.

Linda Cracknell, Doubling Back: Ten Paths Trodden in Memory (Glasgow: Freight Books, 2014). Good memoir of esp Scottish trails, combined with travelogue and literary commentary. Available (through a new publisher) on Amazon.

Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1974). In some ways, this book helped start the “new nature writing” and its emphasis on walking. Or it picked up on Thoreau, since it’s really about walking and observing in a small area. A classic.

Dwayne Donald, “We Need a New Story: Walking and the wâhkôtowin Imagination,” Journal of the Canadian Association for Curriculum Studies (JCACS) La Revue de l’association canadienne pour l’étude du curriculum (RACÉC) Vol. 18, No. 2, (2021): 53-63. Focusses from nêhiyaw (Cree) perspective on the uses of walking as a way of changing things, including attitudes and history of settlement.

Nancy Louise Frey, Pilgrim Stories: On and Off the Road to Santiago (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998). This entertaining, well-written book is specifically about the Camino de Santiago as “therapeutic walking”

Frédéric Gros, A Philosophy of Walking (New York: Verso, 2014). Gros focusses on the history of walking and philosophical thinking.

M. Brennan Harris (2019) “The Physiological Effects of Walking Pilgrimage,” International Journal of Religious Tourism and Pilgrimage: Vol. 7: Iss. 1, Article 9. doi: Available at: Pretty much what it says, and interesting from an exercise scientist’s point of view.

Trevor Herriot, The Road is How: A Prairie Pilgrimage through Nature, Desire, and Soul. HarperCollins, 2014. I know Trevor and have walked with him. He’s a good writer and a keen observer of humanity and nature, and passionate about the environment and justice for Indigenous peoples.

Werner Herzog, Of Walking in Ice. Translated by Martje Herzog and Alan Greenberg (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2015). Short and interesting, this account details Herzog’s journey north on foot to visit a supposedly dying friend.

Erling Kagge, Silence in the Age of Noise (New York: Pantheon, 2017). (translated from the Norwegian). Lovely reflection, on the meditative aspects of walking.

Gideon Lewis-Kraus, A Sense of Direction: Pilgrimage for the Restless and the Hopeful (New York: Penguin/Riverhead, 2012). Details three different pilgrimages including Hasidic pilgrimages, in extremely well-written, urban “New Yorker” style. Emphasis on the “restless” part of the title.

Robert Macfarlane, The Old Ways (London: Penguin, 2013). The prototypical English countryside walking book. A classic must-read of the genre, about the English countryside, full of interesting and educational asides.

Lisbeth Mikaelsson, “Pilgrimage as Post-secular Therapy.” Scripta Instituti Donneriani Aboensis 24 (2014): 259–273. Pretty much what it says, as academic treatment.

Robert Moor, On Trails: An Exploration (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2016). An entertaining and well-written general exploration, tending toward the environmental and natural place of walking, rather than the historical.

O’Mara, Shane In Praise of Walking (Bodley Head, 2019). Haven’t read this yet but absolutely will, since it’s by a fellow Dubliner. From a neuroscientist!

Thelma Poirier, Rock Creek (Regina SK: Coteau Books). Poetic explorations of land and history from Poirier’s three day walk to the source of the creek in Wood Mountain. In the tradition of Nan Shepherd and Annie Dillard.

Nan Shepherd, The Living Mountain (Aberdeen: University of Aberdeen Press, 1977). A classic meditation on place and our longing for connection to the natural world, set in the Cairngorm Mountains, Scotland. Walking-and noticing-locally.

Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, As We Have Always Done: Indigenous Freedom Through Radical Resistance (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2017); See chapter 9 “Land as Pedagogy.” From Anishinaabe perspective, on land as teacher (walking has a place but secondary, in this treatment)

Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust: A History of Walking (New York: Penguin, 2000). I still think this is the greatest book of this genre, by a fantastic, insightful, author concerned not only with walking but also with justice.

Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost (New York: Penguin, 2005). Great, but not as good as Wanderlust (or maybe I just compare everything to that).

Thoreau (need I say more?)

Edmund White, The Flâneur: A Stroll Through the Paradoxes of Paris (New York: Bloomsbury, 2001). Interesting for being a perspective about the history and philosophy of urban walking.

Raynor Winn, The Salt Path. (London: Penguin, 2019). More on a specific set of English historic paths, with general observations about walking.

There are LOTS of popular articles about the benefits of walking. A smattering, in no particular order: (based on the book In Praise of Walking by Shane O’Mara; there is a BBC podcast featuring this writer here: )

And last but not least, Matthew Anderson (that’s me!!) The Good Walk. A memoir of how we launched the long-distance pilgrimages that Canadians and Indigenous folks have been taking almost yearly since on traditional trails across the prairies. I’m looking for a publisher!